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Korchnoi - Geller Candidates Quarterfinal Match

Viktor Korchnoi5.5/8(+4 -1 =3)[games]
Efim Geller2.5/8(+1 -4 =3)[games] Chess Event Description
Korchnoi - Geller Candidates Quarterfinal (1971)

This Candidates Quarterfinal was held in Moscow. 1 The competition was held in order to select a challenger for Boris Spassky, the World Champion. Korchnoi qualified for the 10-game match as the loser of the Spassky - Korchnoi Candidates Final (1968), and Geller qualified from his shared 2nd place in the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal (1970). 2 Korchnoi's seconds were Viacheslav Osnos and Gennady Borisovich Sosonko, and Geller's second was Eduard Gufeld. 2, 3 The arbiter was Vladas Mikenas. 4

Moscow, Soviet Union (Russia), 13-31 May 1971 5

Elo 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 GM Korchnoi 2660 1 ˝ ˝ 0 1 ˝ 1 1 5˝ 2 GM Geller 2630 0 ˝ ˝ 1 0 ˝ 0 0 2˝

Match photo:

This was a clash of two elite Soviet Grandmasters, who had both been finalists at the Curacao Candidates (1962). Starting in 1952, they had played each other 22 times, with the score +7 -4 =11 in Korchnoi’s favour. They last met at the Sousse Interzonal (1967). 6 Korchnoi had won the USSR Championship (1970), his fourth and final Soviet title. He had also finished first at Hoogovens (1971), over Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian, Svetozar Gligoric and Borislav Ivkov. In his home, Korchnoi had played a secret practice match against the new Soviet star Anatoly Karpov, concentrating on playing the black pieces. 7 Geller had come third at the Moscow Victory Anniversary tournament (1970) 8 and fourth at IBM Amsterdam (1970). 9 Both players represented the USSR at the Siegen Olympiad 1970. Korchnoi won the bronze medal on board 3 with 73.3%, and Geller scored 58.3% on 2nd reserve board. 10

Korchnoi faced in Game 1 one of Geller's favorite weapons against 1.d4, but noted that he had "prepared to do battle against the King's Indian, of which Geller is so fond, and which I find equally pleasant to play against as White." 7 The game followed the topical King’s Indian Classical variation that featured so prominently in the Fischer - Taimanov Candidates Quarterfinal (1971). Geller produced an innovation, but in the ensuing complications he blundered on the 27th move, fatally opening the King-file for White. 11

Korchnoi surprised in Game 2 with the Sicilian Dragon variation. He explained that he decided to try this as "Geller is quite a good attacker, but he calculates variations badly - he wastes a lot of time, and often does not believe in himself. Therefore the risk seemed justified to me." 7 Korchnoi had only played the Dragon once before, winning against S Khodzhibekov at the USSR Championship Semifinal (1956). 12 Geller played imprecisely - much to the annoyance of his second Gufeld, who was an expert in this opening. Geller later admitted that he had not read Gufeld's book on the Dragon. Geller came close to losing, but Korchnoi missed a relatively simple win, leaving Geller with a better position but almost no time on his clock. The game was drawn. 13

Game 3, a well played positional King's Indian, was drawn after 34 moves. 13

Paul Keres called Game 4 one of the most interesting of the match. 13 Korchnoi again tried the Dragon, but Geller improved on the book line with 11.h4. 7, 13 From move 28 both players "got into desperate time trouble", but Geller won after Korchnoi blundered on move 37. 7, 14 According to Robert Wade and Leslie Stephen Fraser Blackstock, "After the 4th game which was very complicated with both players getting into acute time trouble Geller no longer wanted a sharp tactical struggle, whereas Korchnoi as planned continued to involve him in one." 1

Korchnoi considered Game 5 to be his best of the match. 14 This time Geller chose a Queen's Gambit Declined rather than Kings Indian, but Korchnoi was ready. He had "prepared an interesting innovation in a well-known variation of the Queen's Gambit, which was quite often adopted by Geller." 7 Position after Korchnoi's 9.Bh4xf6

click for larger view

Keres was enthusiastic about this new move: "9.BxN! (an interesting idea. Usually White exchanges on KB3 immediately on the 7th move, if he decides to do so at all. The text has the idea of forcing the Bishop to QN2 first, where it does not stand very well)". 14 Korchnoi was later disappointed that his idea didn't "appear in the list of thirty innovations mentioned in the appropriate issue of Informator". After putting "strong pressure on the hanging enemy pawns", Korchnoi won in 26 moves. 15 Keres called this game "a terrible debacle" for Geller. 14

In Game 6, Korchnoi chose a Scheveningen Sicilian and "defended carefully" to draw in 26 moves. 14 Korchnoi noted that "I repulsed Geller's onslaught ... though not without difficulty." 15

Game 7 featured another King’s Indian, but this time Korchnoi employed his more usual 3.g3 (E60) treatment. 16 The adjourned position seemed equal, but Korchnoi was determined to find a win: "I attached great importance to the resumption of this game, and therefore the following day, for the first time in the history of matches for the World Championship, I asked for a postponement on the adjournment day!" Osnos now suggested a piece sacrifice that "did not give a win", but Black would be "forced to defend accurately." Geller requested an additional postponement, but his team did not consider the sacrificial line, which Korchnoi indeed played over the board: 17 42.Nd4-e6+

click for larger view

Geller soon drifted into a hopeless position and lost on time. 18 He now needed 2˝ points from the next three games just to tie the score, so he was in a must win situation.

In Game 8, Geller had the white pieces and built up a favorable position against Korchnoi's Scheveningen Sicilian. Keres described Korchnoi's play as "provocative" and noted that Geller's play became "hesitant", "irresolute" and "hard to recognise". He missed a very promising bishop sacrifice on move 27, and subsequently lost on time for the third time in the match. 18

Korchnoi had eliminated Geller 5˝-2˝, advancing to the Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates Semifinal (1971).

After the match, Geller remarked that his defeat on time in Game 1 was unpleasant, as he was immediately in the position of having to catch up. Osnos and Sosonko reckoned that "Perhaps this factor affected Geller's play, which was laboured and with long periods of thought, in nearly all the remaining games of the match." 2 Keres wrote that "I cannot avoid the impression that this match was decided less on the chess board than on the clock .. in almost every game at least one of the contestants was in terrible time trouble .. in the distribution of time Geller was clearly the worse in this match." 13


1 R. G. Wade and L. S. Blackstock, Korchnoi's 400 Best Games (Batsford 1978), p. 179.
2 Garry Kasparov, On My Great Predecessors Part 5 (Everyman Chess 2006), p. 68.
3 Paul Keres, Korchnoi 5˝ Geller 2˝, in Chess Life and Review (August 1971), p. 425.
4 Chess, vol. 36, nos. 631-2 (August 1971), p. 344.
5 Rounds and game dates: New York Times, May 1971; Omaha World Herald, 20 May 1971, p. 10; Omaha World Herald, 21 May 1971, p. 34; Greensboro Record, 27 May 1971, p. 33; Visir (Iceland), 1 June 1971, p. 3.
6 ChessBase, Big Database 2013;, "Korchnoi-Geller" (search "korchnoi-geller").
7 Victor Korchnoi, Chess is My Life (Edition Olms 2004), p. 75.
8 Di Felice, Chess Results 1968-1970, p. 308.
9 Di Felice, p. 257.
10 Raymond Keene and David Neil Lawrence Levy, Siegen Chess Olympiad: September 5th to September 26th, 1970, in Chess for Modern Times, 1970, p. 214; 19th Chess Olympiad: Siegen 1970 (
11 Keres, pp. 424-425.
12 Rusbase, Semifinal of 24th Championship of USSR-Tbilisi 1956 ([rusbase-1]).
13 Keres, p. 424.
14 Keres, p. 426.
15 Korchnoi, p. 76.
16 ChessBase, Big Database 2013.
17 Korchnoi, pp. 76-77.
18 Keres, p. 427.

Original games collection Game Collection: WCC Index (Korchnoi-Geller 1971) by: User: Hesam7. Introduction researched and written by User: Chessical. Additional research by User: crawfb5, User: Tabanus, and User: WCC Editing Project.

 page 1 of 1; 8 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Korchnoi vs Geller 1-0361971Korchnoi - Geller Candidates QuarterfinalE97 King's Indian
2. Geller vs Korchnoi ½-½351971Korchnoi - Geller Candidates QuarterfinalB77 Sicilian, Dragon, Yugoslav Attack
3. Korchnoi vs Geller ½-½341971Korchnoi - Geller Candidates QuarterfinalE97 King's Indian
4. Geller vs Korchnoi 1-0431971Korchnoi - Geller Candidates QuarterfinalB77 Sicilian, Dragon, Yugoslav Attack
5. Korchnoi vs Geller 1-0261971Korchnoi - Geller Candidates QuarterfinalD58 Queen's Gambit Declined, Tartakower (Makagonov-Bondarevsky) Syst
6. Geller vs Korchnoi ½-½261971Korchnoi - Geller Candidates QuarterfinalB81 Sicilian, Scheveningen, Keres Attack
7. Korchnoi vs Geller 1-0561971Korchnoi - Geller Candidates QuarterfinalE60 King's Indian Defense
8. Geller vs Korchnoi 0-1371971Korchnoi - Geller Candidates QuarterfinalB84 Sicilian, Scheveningen
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: This was a great victory for Korchnoi. 4-1 is a big margin against a great player like Efim Geller. I think that both players would be happy when the match finally ended: in most games one or both players were in time trouble. Geller lost three games on time. That shows a high degree of nervous tension. But both players played very well. This is a very interesting match.

Thanks to <Hesam7> and his coadjutors for a superb introduction!

May-08-15  A.T PhoneHome: Finished reading the introduction after I saw your kibitz on Geller-Smyslov (1956) game, <offramp>. Thanks for drawing my attention to this contest!

Judging by the text above, Korchnoi seriously wanted to pose a challenge after another. One has to respect such readiness, especially in such an important match!

Mar-28-18  sakredkow: For no particular reason I wonder where in Moscow this match was played?
Mar-28-18  RookFile: Geller was a great player, but he had match loses against the likes of Keres and Korchnoi. For this reason he cannot be considered the greatest player never to be champ.
Premium Chessgames Member
  AylerKupp: <RookFile> Yes, Geller was a great player. But I don't know of anyone that considered him "the greatest player never to be champ". And in a list of such players I don't think that many would include him.

Which, of course, brings up the obvious question, who would we put on such a list? Depending on how far we want to go back and omitting any active players who might still have a chance, in my list I would include Rubinstein, Bronstein, Keres (of course!), Korchnoi, Stein (who died prematurely), and possibly Larsen.

I could come up with a more rigorous, and likely more accurate list, once I get home and scan the FIDE rating lists to see who the #2 ranked players through the years have been. Surely many of them would be worthy of consideration.

But, of course, any such list is as much a matter of opinion as anything else.

Mar-31-18  Howard: How about Tarrasch ?
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: My own view on the matter may be found here, first posted almost nine years ago, and it has not changed:

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